Tuesday, June 19, 2018

And Now a Word from James Hansen

The scientific community stands in awe of the accuracy of the uncanny accuracy of James Hansen's climate change predictions delivered 30 years ago. For his part, the former director of NASA's Goddard Space Institute says he takes no pleasure in being so prescient.

Now Hansen is back to warn that our leaders are "failing miserably" in responding to this existential threat. Guess what leader is close to the top of Hansen's "worst" list? C'mon, Liberals, you know who it is.

Since this time, the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have mushroomed despite repeated, increasingly frantic warnings about civilization-shaking catastrophe, from scientists amassing reams of evidence in Hansen’s wake. 
“All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem,” Hansen told the Guardian. “We agreed that in 1992 [at the Earth summit in Rio] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at the 2015 climate accord]. We haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don’t mean much, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s.” 
Hansen’s long list of culprits for this inertia are both familiar – the nefarious lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – and surprising. Jerry Brown, the progressive governor of California, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are “both pretending to be solving the problem” while being unambitious and shunning low-carbon nuclear power, Hansen argues. 
Three decades of diplomacy has blossomed into an international consensus, albeit rattled by Trump, that the temperature rise must be curbed to “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times. But in this time emissions have soared (in 1988, 20bn tons of carbon dioxide was emitted – by 2017 it was 32bn tons) with promised cuts insufficient for the 2C goal. Despite the notable growth of renewable energy such as solar and wind, Hansen believes there is no pathway to salvation without a tax on carbon-producing fuels. 
“The solution isn’t complicated, it’s not rocket science,” Hansen said. “Emissions aren’t going to go down if the cost of fossil fuels isn’t honest. Economists are very clear on this. We need a steadily increasing fee that is then distributed to the public.”
...“Poor Jim Hansen. He’s a tragic hero,” said Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard academic who studies the history of science. “The Cassandra aspect of his life is that he’s cursed to understand and diagnose what’s going on but unable to persuade people to do something about it. We are all raised to believe knowledge is power but Hansen proves the untruth of that slogan. Power is power.” 
That power has been most aggressively wielded by fossil fuel companies such as Exxon and Shell which, despite being well aware of the dangers of climate change decades before Hansen’s touchstone moment in 1988, funded a network of groups that ridiculed the science and funded sympathetic politicians. Later, they were to be joined by the bulk of the US Republican party, which now recoils from any action on climate change as heresy.
“Obama was committed to action but couldn’t do much with the Congress he had,” Oreskes said. “To blame the Democrats and Obama is to misunderstand the political context. There was a huge, organized network that put forward a message of confusion and doubt.” 
Climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who testified at the same 1988 hearing about sea level rise, said the struggle to confront climate change has been “discouraging”. 
“The nasty anti-science movement ramped up and now we are way behind.” 
“I’m convinced we will deal with the problem,” he said. “[But] not before there is an amount of suffering that is unconscionable and should’ve been avoided.”

I wish I could believe Oppenheimer's assurances but I cannot. For starters, he's committing the "original sin" of treating climate change as a stand alone problem. It simply is not. It is tightly interwoven with other major, man-made threats, especially overpopulation and our massively excessive consumption of essential resources.

Climate change is a global problem but, even if their impacts are not uniform, so too are overpopulation and over-consumption. Because these are global problems, each in its own right rising to the level of existential, they require global solutions, collaborative efforts by all nations. They are tightly connected, bonded in fact, that you cannot successfully deal with one unless you deal successfully with them all.

Because these are global threats demanding global responses we will have to ensure a high degree of global stability, especially among those nations that will be the "first and worst" impacted. These nations also tend to be the most impoverished and vulnerable. Not all by any means but most. A lack of global stability, the rise of chaos, may shred our prospects of dealing with this basket of existential challenges.

We must also recognize that the developed nations that have the greatest ability to respond to these challenges are also now receiving early onset climate change impacts. Our own resilience may be sapped, weakening our ability to respond and undermining our national and collective will to act even as the challenges multiply and worsen.


Jay Farquharson said...

problem, ( co2 and methane) for another that has a half life measured in the hundreds of thousands of years, ain't the answer.

Anonymous said...

All one has to do is look to the oceans.....they are dying. Most people are land locked and don't care. Anyong.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hundreds of thousands of years? What would that be?

The Mound of Sound said...

The oceans are certainly in distress, Anyong. I'm not convinced we'll survive long enough to kill them. Curious isn't it that we're the one species without which the Earth would bounce along pretty nicely?

Jay Farquharson said...


"Hansen’s long list of culprits for this inertia are both familiar – the nefarious lobbying of the fossil fuel industry – and surprising. Jerry Brown, the progressive governor of California, and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, are “both pretending to be solving the problem” while being unambitious and shunning low-carbon nuclear power, Hansen argues. "

While nuclear is low carbon, it ain't heathy for the planet either.

Germany is one of the global leaders on wind and solar. If outher countries did even half as much,........

crf said...

Hansen's counter to Jay and other who believe in German "leadership": http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2011/20110729_BabyLauren.pdf.

Jay Farquharson said...

I love how I can take the low carbon, high speed rail from Vancouver to Calgary, for half the cost of air travel at about the same amount of time given parking and security,

Oh, wait, I can't.

I just love how those relying on a fossil fuel economy, bitch that those economies that have taken major steps away, "just arn't doing enough".

It's such a Leftier Than Thou form of argument that applies across the board. Germany has gone from 18,000 Gwhr in 1990 in Renewable Energy, (3.4% of consumption) to over 217,000 Gwhr in 2017, ( 36.2% of consumption).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Canada produces less than 15 Gwhr, less than 6% of consumption.

The Mound of Sound said...

I don't want to moderate this argument, interesting as it is. Hansen's piece is from 2011. There's been a lot of progress in renewable technologies since then. I don't know how that impacts his conclusions.

My primary concern is that, unless we confront all of the interwoven challenges that beset us we will probably fail on all of them.

We're still dealing with climate change in terms that don't account for the natural feedback loops we've already triggered, the "tipping points" we have already crossed, many of which just a decade ago we thought might, just possibly occur by 2100 if we didn't mend our ways. Only they're already happening. US Navy oceanographers maintain we've been 80-years out on the advent of a seasonally ice-free Arctic.

A lot of scientific thought from just 10 years ago is already outdated, overtaken by events. And this conversation doesn't accommodate consideration of such things as ocean acidification, the anticipated reversal of the oceanic heat sinks, a population now close to 3 times beyond the Earth's ecological carrying capacity, and the rapid depletion of resources.

We keep hearing from Hansen and Oppenheimer that we can still turn this around. Turn "what" around?

I recently emailed the University of Hawaii's Camilo Mora about his groundbreaking research a few years ago on "climate departure." Climate change will not be a linear process. Climate departure posits that a change will sweep the equatorial, tropical and temperate zones, starting in the early 20s in the equatorial regions. It will operate like a light switch.

Once the switch occurs, the coolest year thereafter will be hotter than the hottest year before the switch. In other words there will be no cool years following climate departure. It will gradually spread until it reaches places like Vancouver in the late 40s.

We'll know soon enough if Mora's team got it right but, if so, it will probably be too late to expect much benefit from carbon pricing. The die will be cast barring some miraculous technology to strip out most of the atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Oddly enough, for years it was the denialists who argued that climate change was a problem of adaptation. They were right - in part. It is a problem of mitigation and adaptation. Yet the adaptation part has not been pursued, not in this era of "everyday low taxes." The price of doing that would necessitate a major restructuring of our society and we're just not up to it.

Jay Farquharson said...


I'm pretty sure that as a species, we are boned.

Geoengineering ain't gonna happen, no profit doncha know, and as a Government project, it's just socialism in respknse to a Chinese hoax. Than again, geoengineering so far, introduces as many problems, some different, as it solves.

Unfortunately, the "solution", other than those introduced by Germany et al, is "individual". Reduce your carbon footprint, go solar hot water, grid tie, etc. Tear up the lawns and go square foot organic gardening. Collect and use rainwater. Paint your roof white or go green roof.

Hope that more than just jellyfish and squid survive.

crf said...

Hansen has not changed his tune regarding the insufficiency of renewable only strategies (he terms them fantasy), and continues to advocate for a carbon tax and a rapid buildout of new Nukes. http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/mailings/2018/20180627_BostonGlobeOpinion.pdf